Taylor Swift and her ex meet up to talk for the first time after a breakup. After “small talk, work and the weather” she apologizes to him for the fight and the breakup. She wishes that she could go back in time and take it back.
In the first pre-chorus, Swift sings a brief allegory:
Because the last time you saw me
Is still burned in the back of your mind.
You gave me roses and I left them there to die.
Swift’s final sentence rewards multiple levels of reading. In a literal reading, her partner brought her roses and she turned them down. This literal interpretation provides a visceral image of decay as roses that were once vibrant and alive are left to rot on the street. In an allegorical reading, the image signifies aspects of a decaying relationship. Swift’s ex provided symbolic roses throughout the relationship – perhaps love, companionship, and laughter – but she turned them away. Without water and care, roses die, and so did this relationship.
In Back To December, Taylor Swift explores decay over time. With the passage of time, living roses become dead roses and the light and warmth of the sun from “summer, all the beautiful times” becomes “the cold… the dark days” of winter. The decay that Swift describes in nature mirror the decay she felts in the relationship. The love that she felt in the fall – “I realized I loved you in the fall” – was replaced with the “fear [that] crept into [her] mind” in the winter. This linear model of the progression of time is bleak as life shifts into death.
Taylor Swift presents a second model for the progression of time, however. In her conversation with her ex, she recalls the past year, and how as each season passed she recalled her relationship from the year prior to that. In the present moment, she recalls “when your birthday passed and I didn’t call” before exploring how the seasons impacted her relationship, as indicated above. The seasons and birthdays that she describes present a cyclical progression of time. Although one spring passes, another one will follow, with time. There will be new flowers in the spring, the days will once again become warm and bright in the summer, and we will once again return “back to December.”
Swift wishes repeatedly that she could go back to December to make things right. In the bridge she states, “I’d go back in time and change it, but I can’t” and in the chorus she repeated “I’d go back to December, turn around and change my own mind.” Swift cannot return to that specific December, because that is not how time works. Hoping for time travel is “wishful thinkin’” and “mindless dreamin’.” However, because of the cyclical nature of time, there is not only hope but absolute certainty that another December will come. Similarly, Swift cannot reset their relationship to how it was before, but she can hope for a second chance: “If we loved again, I swear I’d love you right.” Swift cannot return to the past, but she can ask and hope for future birthdays, future summers in the car, and even future Decembers together.
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